Bill Kristol has spent the early hours of 2017 sharing his ‘big thoughts’ about the state of the world and his predictions for the New Year.
I won’t spend much time on the second of these pieces, which is a rambling disquisition on how Tudor England elevated itself from the position of a third-tier to a second-tier power during the reign of Elizabeth I. What are the salient points of comparison? Best I can tell, most people in both 21st-century United States and 16th-century England speak English.
The first, however, is the classic 2002 Jonathan Last piece claiming that we should really be rooting for the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars franchise. Inspired by the existential crisis Lucas generated among some conservative fans by turning his prequels into a critique of the Bush Administration, Last explained that the corrupt Republic needed the strong hand of the Emperor to preserve order. Also, destroying Alderaan is totally justified.
Leia’s lies are perfectly defensible–she thinks she’s serving the greater good–but they make her wholly unreliable on the question of whether or not Alderaan really is peaceful and defenseless. If anything, since Leia is a high-ranking member of the rebellion and the princess of Alderaan, it would be reasonable to suspect that Alderaan is a front for Rebel activity or at least home to many more spies and insurgents like Leia.
Whatever the case, the important thing to recognize is that the Empire is not committing random acts of terror. It is engaged in a fight for the survival of its regime against a violent group of rebels who are committed to its destruction.
When Sonny Bunch resurrected and embellished this argument in 2015, it didn’t work out much better. Because, in fact, the Empire’s decision to destroy Alderaan has nothing to do with the level of rebel activity there. As Daniel Drezner points out, it’s contradicted by the script itself. And as Luke Perez notes, even if everything Last and Bunch claim was correct about the Empire’s motives, the genocidal destruction of a populous planet is immoral by pretty much any standards for military conflict not embraced by the Mongols.
In fact, the destruction of Alderaan is a narrative device. For example, it establishes the “power” of the Death Star—an important thing, as the threat posed by the Death Star drives the film. It also is supposed to remove any doubts about the moral universe of Star War. If you somehow didn’t understand that the Empire’s visuals scream “Nazis,” missed the significance of calling their soldiers “Storm Troopers,” or failed to notice the score’s audio cues … well, there’s the Empire destroying an entire planet for the explicit purpose of terrorizing the galaxy into submission.
In 1983, Ronald Reagan genuflected toward the Star Wars franchise when he called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire.” In 1996, Bill Kristol co-authored “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” one of the most important statements of neoconservative foreign policy:
What should that role be? Benevolent global hegemony. Having defeated the “evil empire,” the United States enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance by strengthening America’s security, supporting its friends, advancing its interests, and standing up for its principles around the world.
In his 2017 prediction that we will increasingly “appreciate the case for (liberal) empire,” Kristol highlights an infamous fourteen year-old apologia for a tyrannical, illiberal, racist, fictional Nazi space empire.
I can’t imagine how neoconservative intellectuals lost their party to Trumpism.
Bonus: in case you were feeling slightly more optimistic about the next four years…